UNLV desperately needed a solid performance to get out of its five-game losing streak against Division I opponents.
More so, the Runnin’ Rebels needed someone to step up offensively to establish themselves as a second scoring option alongside Bryce Hamilton.
In UNLV’s return to Las Vegas after its lone road trip of the non-conference season, they satisfied both needs in a 76-56 win over the Seattle Redhawks, led by fifth-year guard Michael Nuga, who led the team with 21 points off the bench.
“It was good to see the guys bounce back,” head coach Kevin Kruger said after the win. “We had a tough stretch and to come back to Vegas, play hard and get the results they did, we are just really proud and happy for them.”
“It is exciting that they were able to see the results of continuing to work hard in practice, continuing to battle and get back in the win column. That is important for us going forward.”
Coming off its third straight loss by double digits last Saturday against San Francisco, Nuga helped solve UNLV’s recent offensive woes by being able to knock down open shots and create efficient opportunities.
Nuga hit 8-of-13 shots from the field and 5-of-9 from 3-point range. And he helped distribute the ball with a career-high eight assists in 30 minutes of play.
After the loss to San Francisco, Kruger noted that Nuga was frustrated with himself after his recent performances and got that frustration out after the loss in a constructive way in the locker room. And Nuga backed up his words on the court in his breakout performance with UNLV.
“I just care a lot, we all care a lot,” Nuga said. “ We got back to practice. We kept that same aggression and the same passion, and we applied it to our game for each other.
With Nuga showing he can be a second option offensively for the Runnin’ Rebels, it created another dynamic playmaker on the floor who can hit an open shot, drive to the basket, and create shots for others.
Hamilton, who has been UNLV’s lone consistent contributor on offense, knows Nuga is capable of these performances on a consistent basis.
“Definitely his best game by far,” Hamilton said of Nuga’s performance. “We’re going to expect that. It’s something that he does every single day and we’re going to expect more from him.”
The Runnin’ Rebels had their best 3-point shooting night of the season with a 11-of-27 (40.7%) performance from behind the arc.
Defensively, the Runnin’ Rebels limited Seattle to 34.4% shooting and just 10 made field goals in the second half. And the Runnin’ Rebels were much more active as they created 12 Seattle turnovers, which they turned into 16 points.
Royce Hamm helped UNLV on the boards, picking up 14 as UNLV out-rebounded Seattle 43-32. And UNLV had 24 assists on 30 made field goals.
Oklahoma transfer forward Victor Iwaukor made his season debut after missing the first nine games due to a shoulder injury. Iwaukor came off the bench and played just five minutes before Kruger took him out for precautionary reasons.
Kruger said there wasn’t a minutes restriction on Iwaukor, but after exchanging looks with him, Kruger knew that those five minutes were plenty for someone who hasn’t played in a real game in a while.
“You all saw what he is capable of, what he can do, what he can bring to the team,” Kruger said. “His energy, his athleticism, is something that we’re looking forward to using more in the lineup and it gives us another piece, especially down there as somebody who can help out Royce.”
UNLV (5-5) faces the Hartford Hawks (1-7) Saturday at 12 p.m. With the Thomas & Mack Center hosting the National Finals Rodeo, it will be the second game at Michelob Ultra Arena at Mandalay Bay. The game will be streamed on the UNLV basketball YouTube page.
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